Vernuccio’s View: Russia Unveils New Foreign Policy Concept

On December 1, Russia unveiled its new “Foreign Policy Concept.”

The document states that Moscow’s policy is “open, foreseeable” and “shaped by centuries” of Russia’s historic role. There is little new in it, the first of its kind since Moscow invaded the Ukraine. It seeks to separate Europeans from the U.S., but alleges that Washington is attempting to alienate European nations from the Kremlin. It describes Russia as part of the larger European family, and complains of right-wing movements within European politics. It warns that there is no probable near-term improvement in relations with America, and emphasizes Russia’s growing friendship with China, a relationship clearly pointed against the U.S.

Adding to its propaganda-first nature, it describes Russian foreign policy as “morally superior,” wholly ignoring Moscow’s recent invasions of Ukraine and Georgia, its role in Iran’s nuclear program, its threats against the Balkans, and, most significantly, the placement of short range nuclear missiles to its European border.

Despite Putin’s massive arms buildup, its violations of the Intermediate Range Missile Treaty, and its first-ever lead in nuclear weapons, the document complains about “… the intensifying political, social and economic contradictions and the growing instability of the world political and economic system…the role of the factor of force in international relations increases…The build-up and modernization of the force potential, the creation and deployment of new types of armaments are undermining strategic stability and creating a threat to global security ensured by a system of treaties and agreements in the sphere of arms control.”

Optimistically, the Concept states that “While the danger of unleashing a large-scale war, including a nuclear conflict, remains low among leading states,” but worries about “increasing risks of [nations] involvement in regional conflicts and the escalation of crises.” It pledges that “Russia stands for constructive cooperation with the US in the field of arms control, with a compulsory allowance for an inseparable correlation between strategic offensive and defense weapons.”

Terrorism clearly concerns Moscow. “The global terrorist threat has acquired a qualitatively new nature with the emergence of the international terrorist organization Islamic State and similar groups making violence unprecedentedly cruel, seeking to create their own state and increasing their influence on a territory between the Atlantic coast and Pakistan.” The Concept calls for the “creation of a broad international anti-terrorist coalition on a solid legal base, on the basis of efficient and systematic cooperation of states, without politicizing and double standards, using possibilities of the civil society, first of all with an aim to prevent terrorism and extremism, counter the spread of radical ideas.”

The gap between reality and the Kremlin’s Foreign Policy Statement is reflective of a disconnect between Moscow’s words, its actions, and its international standing.

A recent Rand analysis notes:

“Although Russia is a great power, [Putin] may have an inflated sense of its importance and expect one-sided U.S. concessions. If so, diplomacy could run into headwinds early in the Trump administration. One obstacle in dealing with the Kremlin is that its positions are sometimes not pragmatic. Despite Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, Putin claimed last week that ‘it’s not our fault‘ U.S. relations were poor.In suspending implementation of a U.S. plutonium disposition accord in October, Putin set out unrealistic preconditions for its resumption. One was reduction of U.S. military presence in a number of countries on NATO’s eastern flank, in effect requiring a reversal of the main decision at the alliance’s summit last July in Warsaw. A second demand was that America jettison all sanctions imposed in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine and, incredibly, provide ‘compensation for the damage they have caused‘…Russia is a declining economic power. This erodes its leverage with the West, a vital source of capital and technology. Since 2012, Russia’s economic growth has slowed, partly due to wasteful state control of business, which soared from 35 percent of gross domestic product in 2005 to 70 percent in 2015. Combined with lower oil prices and Ukraine-related sanctions, the result is prolonged economic stagnation.

“Trump will face a Russia whose foreign policy has led to isolation and criticism. Although the intervention in Syria has bolstered the regime of Bashar al-Assad and held the line on the battlefield, political costs to Russia are high…[he] must deal with a festering Russian violation of the 1987 treaty that bans intermediate-range nuclear missile forces. Diplomacy to resolve the problem has come up short, and presidential-level attention is required.” Russia remains in material breach of the accord.  While engaging in overtly hostile activities, the Kremlin unblushingly condemns purely defensive acts, such as the placement of anti-missile equipment, that are meant to deter Iran.

The Rand study further notes that “Russia’s cyber espionage and political influence operations have led to bipartisan anger in Washington.”

Putin’s dramatic arms buildup comes at a time when the U.S. had slashed its defense spending.  There is a need for a clear-eyed understanding of Moscow’s aggressive stance.

Frank Vernuccio serves as editor-in-chief of the New York Analysis of Policy and Government

Print Friendly, PDF & Email